GaWC Annual Lecture 2002

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Cities and Globalization

John Rennie Short*

I am delighted to have been asked to give the fourth annual Globalization and World Cities (GAWC) lecture. In a short period GAWC has emerged as the principal center for the production and dissemination of data and information on global cities.

In this lecture I will take the opportunity to outline the course of my previous work, some current themes and possible future directions.


Academic work is built upon the work of others. The recent concern with global cities is based upon the foundation studies of Peter Hall (1966), John Friedmann (1986; Friedmann and Wolff, 1982) and Saskia Sassen (1991). In his book on world cities, first published in 1966 Peter Hall drew attention to the planning and land use management of large command cities. John Friedmann drew attention to the global network of cities while Saskia Sassen identified two aspects; world cities as command centers and as scenes of socio-spatial polarization.

By the early 1990s there was a growing number of studies of world cities. However, two characteristics were evident. First, there was a continual repetition in some studies that the world cities were New York, London and Tokyo. Second, there were other studies that included an odd assortment of cities including Bahrain and Beirut. In both sets of studies the cities were identified on the basis of assertion rather than careful demonstration. I have termed this the dirty little secret of world cities research. The lack of good comparative urban data is the major cause for this looseness in our conceptual thinking.


It is in this context that I wrote a paper with three graduate students that tried to address this problem (Short, et al, 1996). We identified a range of comparative data including stock exchange business, headquarters of major banks and headquarters of major corporations. In contrast to most other studies we looked at data trends over time in order to get a feeling for the trajectory of change. While the position of New York, London and Tokyo was confirmed, the data also showed the relative decline of London and the relative growth of other European cities particularly Paris and Frankfurt. I would now theorize this finding along the following lines: we can imagine the world as a 24 hour clock. To get the full 24 hour coverage three world cities are necessary. One in Europe. Asia and America. As the world turns, three cities strategically located can give global 24 hour coverage. When it is evening in Tokyo it is morning in Tokyo and when it is close of business in London, New York is already open for business and will stay that way until Tokyo picks up business again. The position of New York, the events of 11 September, 2001 notwithstanding, is secured by the enormous dominance of the US economy. Tokyo’s position is still relatively secure since Japan is the second largest economy in the world, although the spectacular rise of China and Japanese deflation may be providing the scenario for more intense competition in the future between Tokyo and Beijing and Shanghai. The Chinese competitive edge may be blunted by the present Chinese government’s continuing commitment to Beijing while much of the commercial surge is centering on Shanghai. London, in contrast, is the capital of a relatively weak economy on the edge, in many ways, of an enlarging European Community. What our data was picking up was the competition for this central European world city slot. London is still dominant and in terms of producer services outranks most other cities in the world. But Paris and Frankfurt will compete in the longer term. The great silence of course is Berlin that for obvious reasons has not filled a peaceful world city role probably since the last Olympics of 1936. Over the longer term, Berlin would be the obvious candidate to become Europe’s premier world city.


Ranking the command functions of cities is an interesting but limited exercise. It allows us some idea of the relative economic weight of cities and provides an antidote to the mere assertions of previous studies. However, cities not only occupy levels of a hierarchy they are also part of a network. Building upon the Castells notion of space of flows, considerable work has been devoted to examining flows in the global urban network. My own contribution, along with my colleague Yeong Kim, was to look at the airline passenger flows (Short and Kim, 1999). We constructed flow data based on passenger flows of more than 100, 000 persons in either directions. The overall trend was for the existing channel of flows between North America and Pacific Rim to thicken and deepen. It was not a global phenomenon. Like globalization itself the process was uneven, with Africa barely registering. Looking at the data for individual cities was revealing. London was clearly the hub of the global airline flows. However, comparison of secondary centers revealed a picture of regional articulations. Los Angeles, for example, despite the protestations of the LA school is less a world city and more a Pacific Rim world city while Amsterdam is clearly a European world city. A most interesting pattern emerged from our analysis of Miami. The data clearly revealed the city as the capital of Latin America. Miami is less a North American city and more a Latin American city with connections that make it the hub of flows to the Caribbean, Central and South America. Kingston, Jamaica, for example is divided into 20 postal districts. Locals use the term Kingston 21 to refer to Miami, indicating the degree of connection between the two cities.

A discussion of network flows in the global urban hierarchy would be incomplete without mentioning the work of GAWC researchers who have constructed an invaluable data inventory (GAWC, 2002). To identify a world city network they looked at the distribution of advanced producer services across a range of cities They generated a data matrix of 316 cities and 100 firms in accountancy, advertising, banking/insurance, law, and management consultancy. They identified firms with at least 15 identifiable separate offices. They identified connectivity between the 316 cities. Those that had at least one fifth of the connectivity of the most connected city, which was London, were identified as world cities. A total of 123 world cities were identified (see Taylor et al, 2001 who build upon the earlier 55 city network used in Beaverstock et al, 1999). They provide us with one of the most sophisticated world city networks produced to date. And even more reassuring their data confirms some of the Short and Kim airline data that was constructed independently. Thus both the airline data and the GAWC data confirm the dominance of London, the relative provincialism of Los Angeles and the Latin American articulation of Miami’s influence.


Global cities embody and articulate processes and outcomes of globalization. While a great deal of attention has been devoted to economic globalization and the city, it is important to recognized the importance of cultural globalization and the city. Three strands have been identified. The first is the recognition that global cities are the home to a variety of ethnic diversities. The global city is the heterogeneous city and a growing indicator of provincialism is homogeneity. Global cities are sites of both reterritorialization and deterritorialization. An important feature is the extent to which certain ethnicities are tied to certain niches in the socio-economic hierarchy as well as to certain urban social spaces. Transnational communities of both rich and poor of very different national and ethnic groups have been recognized. The second strand is the extent to which these communities are both the bearers and transmission lines of economic globalization. Much of the literature has equated economic globalization with the penetration of local markets by large multinational companies. This gigantist view of economic globalization ignores the extent to which economic globalization occurs in and through transnational communities in cities around the world. Transnational communities are the sites between the intersection of local and family ties and global flows of people, money, capital, goods and services. A third strand is the focus on cultural flows including films, television, books and events (Appadurai, 1996). My own work has been concerned with examining the impact of the summer Olympic Games both as a globalizing force with very local connections. The work is still at an early stage but will appear soon in a number of papers.


The death of the nation state has been overstated. Indeed, we can make a case that with globalization the state becomes more important as a mechanism for mediation between global forces and national social formations. The interconnections between city, regional and national governments have become more complex (Clarke and Gaile, 1997; Sassen, 1999). A post Keynesian, post federal state with marked inequality in the national space economy, has replaced the Keynesian state committed to a large range of free public services nationally available. In states with a non-primate distribution and a federal structure, city-states can be identified in which the regional and city governments have become much more important as vehicles for globalizing cities. Take the case of Sydney Australia whose Olympic bid was underwritten by the state government of New South Wales with the federal government playing little or no role. In other countries, those with a larger degree of central governmental power and a primate urban hierarchy, the national government along with regional and local governments can also play a part in ensuring the global competitiveness of primate cities. The grande ensembles of Paris or the heavy UK government investment in London are two examples of national governments ensuring global city competitiveness.

There is no simple relationship between global cities and the state. In some cases the city region may be separating of from the fortunes of the rest of the national space economy; in others the fortunes of nation state and global city are inextricably linked. The different levels of the state are also involved in different ways. The relationship between the city and nation state are many and varied.


An important element in global city research has been to identify the discursive strategies of global and globalizing cities (Ashworth and Voogd, 1990; Kearns and Philo, 1993; Ward, 1998). Global cities are represented by signs and symbols, advertisements and in the hosting of events. In two papers I have outlined the repertoires of city advertising and their emphasis on economic advantages and quality of life factors (Short, 1999; Short and Kim, 1998 ). More recently I have become interested in identifying the cultural ensembles considered vital to global city status: art galleries, music venues, ethnic restaurants and festivals. Global cities are defined by cultural economic as much as financial economics. There are also constellation of urban spectaculars that include global mega events and signature architects; Olympic Games, World Cup Soccer and music and arts festivals have become a defining feature of global city status. Global cities are enacted, performed and spectacularized.


One important feature of world city research has been the search for world cityness. Many studies have been devoted to identifying whether this or that city is a world city. While the work is interesting up to a point it tends to focus the analysis of the relationship between cities and globalization onto just the top end of the urban hierarchy. However, in a recent paper I, along with some graduate student colleagues argued that this focus tends to ignore how globalization is acting in and through other types of cities. In the paper we argued for extending the globalization/city research nexus beyond the narrowing focus of determining which cities are world cities (Short et al, 2000). By shifting attention away from the empirical measurement of degrees of ‘world cityness’ we want to focus on asking what happens in all cities because of globalization. By looking at cities below the top echelon we sought to broaden the understanding of the globalization/city connection. We used the term gateway city. This term has been developed by Grant (1999) and Grant and Nijman (2000) through their work in Africa and India. We use the term gateway city to refer to the fact that almost all cities can act as a gateway for the transmission of economic, political and cultural globalization.

The focus on gateway as opposed to world city shifts the attention away from the question of which cities dominate to how cities are affected by globalization. We provided a series of theorized case studies of Barcelona, Beijing, Havana, Prague, Seattle, Sioux Falls and Sydney.


Let me end this lecture with some themes for future work. This list is neither complete nor exhaustive. Nor is it a prescription for other people’s work. I want to encourage and enhance a plurality of voices and approaches. The list is simply some of the issues that concern me and will provide the background to my unfolding research work over the next year.

Cities and Reglobalizations

Much of the globalization literature assumes that globalization is a relatively recent phenomenon. Elsewhere I have argued for the notion of a series of reglobalization since at least the fifteenth century (Short, 2001). Globalization occurs in pulses, a series of reglobalizations that vary in form and intensity and leave an urban legacy of built form, social formations and new constellations socio-economic power relations Cities are not so much becoming globalized, as being continually reglobalized. The simple picture of globalization incorporating cities previously untouched by global connections needs to be replaced with a more sophisticated picture of economies and cities being subject to differing degrees and forms of reglobalization. An important research topic is to reconsider urban histories as part of a more global urban network continually in the process of reglobalization.

Competition for Primary Gateway Status

Many countries have a stable urban hierarchy in which one city has dominated for years. In countries with a primate city, the pattern is clear. However, in countries where there is not such a clear and overwhelming dominance there is opportunity for change and competition. The city that is most globally connected in any one country can change over time. For example, it can be suggested that in Australia the primary city has shifted over the past thirty years from Melbourne to Sydney. In Germany, Berlin is rapidly emerging as the primary global city. Examples of stable and changing primary cities can be noted and theorized.

The City and Global Spectacle

Guy DeBord coined the phrase "society of the spectacle," asserting that "the spectacle is the chief product of present-day society (DeBord, 1994: 16). The commodification of actual experience creates impersonal spectacles that are witnessed rather than experienced. Arguably, some of the most important global spectacles are city based. The most obvious example of a global mega-event is the Olympic Games, which reach a worldwide television audience and offer perhaps the best stage upon which a city can make the claim to global status. Presenting the host city with a unique opportunity to display itself to the world, such events, particularly the Olympics, provide an unsurpassed media spectacle focused on a distinct urban setting. The promise of worldwide exposure and economic gain has made hosting these major and regularly scheduled sporting affairs a lucrative goal for aspiring cities around the world. An examination of the effects and consequences of bidding for and hosting the summer Olympic Games would provided us with a good opportunity to connect our understanding of globalizing cities with mega events and urban spectaculars.

Urban Regimes

An urban regime is the formal and informal arrangement by which public bodies and private interests function together to be able to make and carry out governing decisions" (Stone, 1989: 6). Urban regimes regulate the relationship between cities and the global economy (Lauria, 1997: 7). It is important to reconstruct urban regime theories to account for globalization effects. The extent to which cultural globalization encourages a more even dispersion of democratic values or to which it encourages controlling governments to further impose regulations on the lives of its citizens has yet to be fully explored. A more complex discernment of the role of urban regimes in regulating local structures will contribute to understanding how local and global forces interact with each other. One example: the role of political governance in the city has been transformed by the rise of the entrepreneurial city. Urban regimes have become more concerned with direct income generation and a variety of public-private partnerships. Cities have become more concerned with the politics of maximising growth and income than with their redistribution (Hall and Hubbard, 1998). How are cities differently located with regards to maximising income generation and what are the consequences for social spending as the central states continue to privatize and withdraw public service provision.

Globalization and Everyday Life

Globalization affects the institutions and structures of society, from multi-national corporations to the range of opportunities and lifestyles available to different individuals. Those living in world cities are certainly faced daily with an increasingly 'global' experience, but those living in smaller cities are also finding differences in their everyday lives as globalizing processes occur. Certainly, 'globalization' is not sufficient to explain the many causal factors that contribute to social changes, but the scales and spaces of everyday lives are among the bundle of spheres globalization touches.

As a set of processes, globalization triggers both new opportunities and new problems experienced in local lives. Returning to an analysis of globalization in terms of changes in scales and spaces, we may ask how individuals are at work in reconstructing the spaces of their lives and in turn, how the spaces of their lives are being changed by globalization processes. For disempowered or marginalized people, global technologies may allow for interactions in more broadly defined or more diverse spaces. Globalization may afford previously isolated small town folk the opportunity to work as a part of a large corporation and have access to increased wages and benefits. Also, though, through changing boundaries opportunities may be removed for individuals and new actors with power advantages may have access to what were previously local spaces. The closure of small, locally owned businesses and the inability of family farms to survive might be linked with the incorporation of towns into increasingly globalized markets.

Globalization also affects the degree to which local people or citizens have control over the identity of their places. The shifts in scales and spaces related to globalization are accompanied by shifts in power relations and in economic opportunities, and these may become manifest in individual lives in a rich variety of ways. World cities research as traditionally structured has tended to ignore the connection between global processes and local lives (Alger, 1990). The connections need to be made between the aggregate nature of most global cities research and the rich documentary evidence of urban ethnographies if we are understand how different types of people get by in different ways in different cities across the world.


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* Department of Geography, Maxwell School, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244, USA

Edited and posted on the web on 5th March 2002